Canti VI, Bruto Minore
Translated by Steven J. Willett
After Italian Valor, lying in Thracian dust
an immense ruin,
had been uprooted, then in the valleys
of green Hesperia, on Tiber’s shore,
Fate prepares the tramp of barbarian horse,
and from naked forests
oppressed by the freezing Bear,
calls forth the Gothic swords
to overthrow Rome’s renowned walls;
sitting alone, soaked in brothers’ blood,
through black night in a desolate site, Brutus is
determined to die, and the implacable
gods and Hell itself he accuses
with savage cries
and strikes the somnambulant air in vain.
Fatuous Valor, the empty mists, the fields
of unquiet phantoms
are your schools, and behind you strides
remorse. To you, marmoreal gods,
(whether you reside in Phlegethon
or the clouds), to you a laughingstock and mockery
is the miserable race
from whom you extort temples and a fraudulent
law insulting to mortals.
Is heaven’s wrath, then, so provoked
by terrestrial piety? and do you then
sit, Jove, impiety’s protector? and when storm clouds
exult through the air, and when
you hurl the swift thunderbolt,
do you cast the sacred fire on the just and faithful?
Invincible destiny and iron
necessity crush the sickly
slaves of death: and if nothing avails to end
their indignities, the common man
takes comfort in their necessity. Is the evil
without cure less harsh? Does he feel no grief
who’s stripped naked of hope?
War to the death, eternal, o ignoble fate,
the valorous man wages,
incapable of surrender; and your tyrannical
right hand, victorious as it bears him down,
indomitable he shrugs off with a valiant show,
when in his noble side
the bitter blade runs with blood,
and malignly he smiles at the darkening shadows.
He displeases the gods who violently breaks
into Tartarus. No such courage
could be found in their feeble, eternal breasts.
Perhaps our torments, perhaps our
bitter accidents and wretched passions heaven created
as a pleasing spectacle for their idle hours?
Not between calamities and crimes,
but free in the forests and pure
Nature appointed us,
once our queen and goddess. But since on earth
impious custom has destroyed the blessed realms
and subjected our miserable life to other laws;
when a virile soul rejects
his luckless days
does Nature return, and accuse the arrow that’s not hers?
Ignorant of guilt and their own misfortunes
are the fortunate beasts;
serene old age guides them
to an unforeseen passage.
But if they dash their foreheads
on rough tree-trunks or from a mountain cliff
cast bodies headlong to the winds,
moved by their anguish,
against that miserable desire would stand
no arcane law
or shadowy conception. You alone, among the numerous
progeny that heaven created, alone among all,
children of Prometheus, regret life.
Alone o wretched ones, to you Jove bans,
if sluggish fate delays,
the shores of death.
And you, from the sea stained by our blood,
you rise bright moon,
and explore the unquiet night and the deadly
battlefield of Italian Valor.
The victor tramples on kinsmen’s breasts,
the hills shudder, from her highest summits
ancient Rome collapses—
and are you so placid? You saw the birth
of Lavinia’s offspring, and their years
of happiness, and the memorable victories;
and on the mountain peaks you pour your immutable
silent light when, in the wreck
of the servile Italian name,
this solitary place will echo
beneath the barbarian tramp.
Here among naked rocks or on green boughs,
beast and bird,
breasts heavy with their habitual oblivion,
ignore the profound ruin and the altered
destiny of the world: and as the rooftop
of the industrious peasant first glows red,
with its morning song
the one will wake the valleys, while through high slopes
the other will startle the helpless multitude
of smaller creatures.
Oh destiny! oh insensate race! we are an abject
part of things; neither the bloodstained soil
nor the howling caves
has our calamity ever perturbed,
and no human cares stain the stars.
Neither to Olympus’ or Cocytus' deaf
kings, or to the unworthy earth,
and not to the night, in dying, do I appeal;
nor to you, the last flicker of black death,
a conscious future age. Will weeping
placate the disdainful man’s tomb, words and gifts
of the vile crowd adorn it? The times
precipitate to the worse; uselessly we assign
to our corrupt descendants
the honor of eminent minds and the supreme
vindication of the suffering. About me let
the wings of the dark voracious bird sweep;
the wild beast crush me, and the tempest
carry off my unknown remains;
and the wind welcome my name and memory.